Many times we take conventions in household activities that aren’t analyzed by Science. We never eat hot and cold drinks at once, we never wash with cold water immediately after exercise, etc. So, let us analyze a common convention we mostly tend to take; leaving food outside for a while before refrigerating it. Now we know that if we place the hot food directly into the refrigerator, it loses its flavor due to the steam rising from it condensing inside. But, at the same time, we also know that keeping it outside more than a few hours mean it is probably spoiled even though we can’t smell or see anything suspicious. So, what kind of balance can we strike to preserve both the taste and hygiene of our food?
The USDA officially says that food lying outside for more than 2 hours is probably spoiled, and you should get rid of it. But, despite what it seems, 2 hours is a pretty big window, and you can allow it to cool before placing it in the right temperature. But we aren’t taking any risks here with just assumptions, so we took the advice of scientists, chefs and food safety officials as well. The chef has said that the main culprit of destroying the taste is condensation in the fridge. The scientists affirmed the chef and said that placing food immediately in the fridge resulted in the formation of a moisture layer that ruins both the texture and the taste of the food. It also formed a platform for bacteria to thrive in, so it IS indeed non-advisable to put food in the fridge when it is hot.
However, as soon as it reaches room temperature and you are not in the mood of eating it, you should store it in the fridge because longer it remains outside, more the chances are that it will get spoiled. Reddit user and food scientists Fearthejet explains this in the following words:
“After a normal cook, food bacteria goes into what they call ‘heat shock.’ During this phase, the bacteria goes into survival mode. This means a majority of the energy is spent on keeping the cell alive, not reproducing. Second, after the heat shock the bacteria will, at some point, begin to reproduce again. This is based on the specific bacteria conditions like pH, temperature, nutrient availability etc. This may be 30 minutes, or this may even be hours or a day or so”
The pathogens in spoiled food, are very dangerous and they aren’t to be taken lightly at all. One in six Americans get food poisoning every year, majority of it from the spoiled foods lying around the house. More than 3,000 die as well, so that’s about a thousand times more dangerous than shark attacks which we all keep fretting about. So, whether it is your favorite Pizza’s leftovers or your mother’s favorite Lasagne, don’t keep it outside for too long and cover it if you have to! So, the answer to the posed question is that you should immediately refrigerate your food once it is cool enough. The household convention holds true this time around!